Margaret Stock, an immigration attorney in Anchorage, Alaska, tells me that deportable foreigners have long been eligible for "deferred action status." She has sought it for many clients and says, "Previously it was really the whim of the local office whether you got it or not."
Until now, she says that "it was pretty much one of those things that lawyers knew about but the general public didn't." The Obama administration has merely extended to a large, well-defined group an option that used to be available mainly to a few with the cash and savvy to hire a lawyer. British pop icons? Sure. Mexican janitors? Probably not.
Republicans say Obama's policy rewards people for breaking the law. But the young people affected by the change had no say in the decision. Banishing those who grew up here because of what their parents did punishes the innocent, not the guilty.
The other complaint is that the policy will force Americans to compete for jobs and college admission with those allowed to stay. But immigrants, legal or illegal, not only fill jobs but create them. Historically, there is no correlation between higher immigration and higher unemployment.
And if foreign-born students have done everything to qualify for higher education, why shouldn't they be allowed to pursue it on the same terms as their peers? What the 13,000 people who showed up at Navy Pier want is what conservatives are fond of promising: not a guarantee of success, but an opportunity to make the most of their abilities.
It's a dream that is American to the core. No one should be surprised that on Wednesday, they interrupted the proceedings to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.